In what Mayor Stephen Waluk referred to as “a tremendous disappointment" during Wednesday night's city council meeting, allocated $1.2 million towards firefighter overtime.
The budget proposal originally called for $500,000 in overtime to cover a reduced staff of 17 firefighters per shift. Due to a legal dispute over the expired firefighter contract, which requires 20 firefighters per shift in the summer and 19 per shift in the winter, the extra $700,000 was allotted to total the $1.2 million.
“The biggest cost driver in this budget is our fire department, and because we don’t have a contract with that fire union that works with the city of Newport, the entire city takes a hit,” Waluk said.
Waluk said it is unfortunate that Newport, compared to similar sized cities, has lower staffing and pay levels across all city departments and was with the fire department that provided “fundamental fairness for all city employees.”
Councilor Charles Duncan said the union’s contract was unjustifable.
“I’ve heard that ‘I’m in harm’s way’ - let me see, that little fella in Afghanistan - he’s in harm’s way and he’s making a hell of a lot less money,” Duncan said.
David Hanos, the president of the IAFF Local 1080 and the chief negotiator for the Newport Fire Department, said the fire fighters have not had a raise in five years.
“I don’t think it’s very prudent to sit up here, when we are in court with the fire department, and when we are in negotiations with the fire department, and just continue to bash," Councilor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said. "I don’t think it’s productive, I don’t think it’s helpful to the community. Everyone that has been talking up here, thus far, didn’t want to settle the contract last year during campaign time.”
Napolitano’s comment referred to last year’s contract that proposed to reduce the minimum required staff from 19 to 17 and provide pay raises to the department. The offer was withdrawn by the city before it was settled.
“That contact was designed by [the city],” Hanos said. “They didn’t sign it because it was August before the elections, and they didn’t want it in the papers.”
Hanos said this practice is unlawful, and spurred the union to open an unfair labor practice complaint against the city.
He also said that that because this contract was never settled, the 2012 budget is inaccurate because it only funds 17 fire fighters. The minimum staff required is set contractually and the last settled contract in 2007 states a minimum of 20 fire fighters are required during the summer months of April through November and 19 from November through March, he said.
As if Newport fire fighters heard the council’s heated debate on their fate, the sounds of fire sirens silenced the room as they drove past City Hall.
“With all due respect Councilor Napolitano,” Mayor Waluk said when the sirens faded ". . . It doesn’t have to be personal. . .but as long as I’m in the city council, I will stand up, and I will speak my mind. And when I think there is a group that won’t work to the betterment of the city, I will say it. And in my opinion, this budget is not as good as we can do because the lack of corporation. What we have is not working for Newport."
The next legal ruling on the contractual disputes is scheduled for July 5.
[Editor's note: A previous version of this article inaccurately stated overtime and staff cuts totalled a $1.5 million reduction.]